Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has won plenty of plaudits for its entertaining portrayal of near future combat, and for incorporating the weapons of tomorrow into an established and valuable gameplay formula.
Part of the game's charm is its slightly sci-fi setting of computerized combat simulations, swarm drones, boost jumps and robotic prosthetics. But at its heart, it remains a point-and-shoot gallery wrapped around an expensive narrative frame.
So where does Call of Duty go next, in its grueling annual attempt to offer novelty and freshness to an audience with plenty of other options at their disposal?
One idea, highlighted this week, is a return to its World War II origins. Asked by Metro where the series might go in future iterations, Michael Condrey, co-founder of Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games replied, "I can only answer from my own personal tastes, this is my own personal opinion. But some of my favorite pieces of entertainment are set in World War II. Band of Brothers, I'm a massive fan of Band of Brothers.
"And that's a great hero's war, kind of the last that was recognized as a noble cause in a war. So yeah, I think a next generation game with the latest production values and robustness in a World War II setting like Band of Brothers would be amazing. Now, how would it play and how would the multiplayer work after the new movement set in Advanced Warfare? That's a tougher question than I've had to tackle yet..."
Call of Duty began as a World War II series, jumping into the success of the Medal of Honor franchise. A decade ago, in the Saving Private Ryan aftermath, WWII was all the rage in shooting games. But after three core CoD games and 2008's Call of Duty: World at War, the series has moved on variously to the 1960s, the modern day and the near future.
The advantage of WWII is that it's a familiar setting that entertainment consumers are constantly happy to see reinvented. New movies and books are forever taking us back to the 1940s, most especially the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.
WWII also offers a clean story, free from the complexities and controversies of Cold War arenas and post 9/11 wars.
It's been such a long time since Call of Duty addressed the Second World War that a new run against the Nazis would feel almost like a brand new beginning for the series, rather than merely a return to something that felt pretty jaded just a few years ago.
Like Condrey, I'd like to see what an Activision studio could do with a WWII shooting game, especially now that the company has a game under its belt that can boast some genuinely interesting characters and story-moments. This is an area where gaming, even shooters, has moved on immensely in the last five or six years. WWII can offer some rich and amazing story moments in the context of the war, something that hasn't really been done before.
Can Call of Duty, once it has embraced the cool techs and gameplay opportunities of quasi-fantasy settings, go back to the relative simplicity of World War II?
Of course, the weapons and technologies available to players in a WWII game won't be as sexy as those in Advanced Warfare, but WWII guns, tanks and planes are still pretty cool, if you like that sort of thing. I think a Spitfire or an M2 Browning can be every bit as satisfying as a robot soldier or an auto-pilot helicopter.
Unfortunately, there may be commercial resistance to a return to WWII. Game publishers seem to be shy about the era right now. When EA re-introduced Medal of Honor in 2010, it set the game in Afghanistan, not Normandy.
Technology and tastes have moved on since the early years of this century, when WWII games were popular. A Call of Duty game has to sell way more copies now, than in 2004. WWII as a big budget money-spinner is unproven at this level.
But given that there are only so many places the Call of Duty franchise can go, it seems like a good time for it to go back to its roots and to give us a WWII shooting game worthy of modern games technology and design.